Hello bookworms!! Today I wanted to talk about an oddly specific trope I’ve been reading lately. Namely, the reality cooking show trope.
Maybe ‘tropes’ is the wrong word, but it feels like I’ve been adding new favourites to a list that already includes “enemies to lovers” and “there’s only one bed”. So, tropes is the word we’re going with. (And, you never know, this might become a regular thing here…)
Anyway, let’s get on with it!!
The reality cooking show trope
Look, I’m a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off, so this appeals to me on a spiritual level. But honestly, I didn’t even know it was a thing until late last year when I happened to come across not one, but two books, within the same month that had this as a plot concept. And really, I’d read 20 more. (No, I’m not joking.)
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
If you’re looking for the actual Great British Bake Off in a book, this is it. In spades. You’ve got a bisexual single mum competing in a weekly baking contest, in England. In fact, this is the book that sparked my British Bake Off rewatch.
Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.
Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.
Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.
CW: biphobia, homophobia, unwanted sexual advances / threat of sexual assault, gaslighting, classism, emotionally distant / emotionally unsupportive parents
Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
Look, I don’t actually watch a lot of reality tv (it’s pretty much Bake Off, Grand Designs, Gordon Ramsay — UK based only, and ummm… that’s it), but I imagine this is what Masterchef-at-home vs X-Factor would be like. It’s also got this cute enemies to lovers, fake dating, arranged marriage thing going on in the background. But let’s be honest, I’m here for all the food references.
Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall–with hopes that Reena will marry him.
But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.
As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved.
CW: eating disorder in secondary character, alcohol abuse, overbearing parents, depression and anxiety, cheating (mentioned), incest (mentioned), racism (mentioned)
Other books that sound kind of similar
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox
When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness. She also loses her ability to taste and smell — both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown. While running the family’s bustling bakery. And dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over.
With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined. Especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster? Or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track?
Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney
Alice Fleck’s father is a culinary historian. And for as long as she can remember, she’s been helping him recreate meals from the past — a hobby she prefers to keep secret from kids her age. But when her father’s new girlfriend enters them into a cooking competition at a Victorian festival, Alice finds herself and her hobby thrust into the spotlight.
And that’s just the first of many surprises awaiting her. On arriving at the festival, Alice learns that she and her father are actually contestants on Culinary Combat, a new reality TV show hosted by Tom Truffleman, the most famous and fierce judge on TV! And to make matters worse, she begins to suspect that someone is at work behind the scenes, sabotaging the competition.
It’s up to Alice, with the help of a few new friends, to find the saboteur before the entire competition is ruined. All the while tackling some of the hardest cooking challenges of her life… for the whole world to see.
The Great Witches Baking Show by Nancy Warren
Poppy Wilkinson is thrilled to be chosen as a contestant on The Great British Baking Contest. As an American with English roots, winning the crown as Britain’s Best Baker would open doors she’s dreamed of. In more ways than one. Appearing on the reality show is her chance to get into Broomewode Hall and uncover the secrets of her past.
But strange things are happening on the show’s set. Accusations of sabotage. A black cat that shadows Poppy. Suspiciously unsociable residents at Broomewode Hall. And the judges can be real witches.
There are murmurs that Broomewode is an energy vortex. It certainly makes Poppy see and do things that aren’t exactly normal, and seems to draw interesting characters to the neighborhood.
When a fellow contestant dies in mysterious circumstances, Poppy has more to worry about than burned pies and cakes that won’t rise. There’s a murderer on the loose and it’s up to Poppy and her new friends to solve the crime before it becomes a real show-stopper.
Have you read any books about reality cooking shows?